By Carolyn Gray Anderson
“Information without action is irrelevant, and action without information is ineffective.”
This is how retired U.S. Army Special Forces Master Sergeant Brian Boggess sums up the experiences in Logar Province, Afghanistan, that inspired Whitebeam Global, the private security service that Boggess and former U.S. Marine Corps Infantry Officer Killian Hemmy are launching. They recently accelerated their startup in the nine-day intensive Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans. It was the first time UCLA Anderson admitted veterans who came in as a team.
Hemmy had been discharged from service in 2005 and he was working in Afghanistan for the FBI — a client he never imagined he’d have. “Afghanistan was such an uncharted and uncontrolled environment,” he says. “Being able to collect crucial information is one thing, but if you can’t find somebody who can commit decisive action to that information, you’re missing out.”
Boggess and Hemmy feel fortunate that their paths crossed in 2008 when Boggess’ Special Forces unit and Hemmy’s FBI team collaborated on a series of efforts to shut down an extensive IED network around Kabul.
“The relationship that was established was phenomenal because Brian’s team was able to commit to performing action based on what we communicated to them. Because of that, we were able to disrupt the various networks of threats out there — not just threats to U.S. interests but to innocent people across the board,” says Hemmy.
“Afghanistan is an extreme example of having extraordinary capacity for action in a combat environment that is also constrained by local law enforcement,” Boggess says. “Our work together in Afghanistan was a model of interagency cooperation. After 9/11 there was a recognition that the various U.S. agencies and departments needed to have much better communication and interoperability in order to be most effective. We put that concept to work at the most fundamental level — the guys on the ground.”
Since then, Boggess and Hemmy have returned to their respective homes in Oregon and Virginia, but they maintain a strong business partnership and friendship from afar. “We knew right away that we worked well together,” says Boggess. “It’s common in the military to work with people from other units, branches and organizations, especially in Special Forces, but our immediate synergy was unusual. It was a fortuitous partnership that resulted in our teams’ being awarded the FBI Director’s Award for Excellence in 2015.”
“Brian and I figured out how to work together under the harshest of circumstances, an environment fraught with the most extreme dangers to people,” says Hemmy. “Our interpersonal dynamic was forged there and has provided a great foundation for all future challenges we might face.”
Whitebeam Global provides bespoke strategies to mitigate and manage risk and provide protection, whether from bodily harm or cyber attacks. “It’s almost algorithmic to us now how to prevent these things,” Hemmy says of his and Boggess’ ability to apply lessons learned in the field to what they describe as “corporate espionage.”
Whitebeam’s services include individualized assessment of existing financial, reputational and personal security measures along with tailored education plans for critical executive personnel who are internationally active, whether based in the U.S. or abroad. Although global travel can be dangerous, Whitebeam is steering clear of scare tactics to garner business. “We want to allay fears, not engender them,” says Boggess. And, adds Hemmy, “Fear can and should be transitioned into awareness and preparedness.”
The partners’ target client base consists of small to medium businesses of 10–50 full-time employees that deal with significant amounts of personal client data. “Attorneys, accountants and financial advisors, for example, all routinely hold very sensitive personal and financial information about their clients,” says Boggess. “Any compromise of this data results in direct costs to the affected business that can easily reach $50,000 or more. Historically, over 30 percent of businesses this size will face some type of information compromise or threat to their assets or reputation. Of those companies compromised, 60 percent will go out of business within six months of the incident.”
The company name derives from the majestic eponymous tree but also references the code name of Andrée Borrel, a member of the Special Operations Executive for the French Resistance during World War II.
Boggess and Hemmy entered EBV with great certainty about the need for Whitebeam’s services but only a sketch of their business model. They agreed that working through the process of articulating every aspect of the business, from a mission statement to a marketing strategy, helped to create a more concrete strategy for launch. “The biggest difference for me,” Boggess said after completing the program, “was a changed perspective regarding who, in an entrepreneurial role, is in charge of the direction and positioning of the company. I now see working closely with other companies rather than subcontracting their services.”
“For me,” says Hemmy, “it was a recognition that although individual effort is crucial, the entrepreneurial world is chock full of people who are willing to collaborate in order to move forward. We cannot thank the UCLA Anderson team enough for providing us with this opportunity. We were able to spend unfettered time with one another establishing the foundations of our business.”
Despite the three-hour time difference between their locations, says Boggess, “We’ve been able to make company decisions together very easily already. We share a similar drive to get things done professionally; we work well together or alone, and we have both spent the majority of our careers in fields that require absolute discretion and an understanding of the sensitive nature of personal information. Killian’s long experience in the investigative field dovetails perfectly with my focus on operations and acting on that information.”
“We also bring a healthy dose of levity to all situations, no matter how intense, as a way to prevent stress from negatively influencing our ability to accomplish the mission,” says Hemmy. To which Boggess adds, “Having a business partner is like having a workout partner: You have extra motivation and a shared sense of responsibility that helps to keep things moving.”